Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith
Roberts, Laurel Near
Director: David Lynch
Audio: PCM Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 89 Minutes
Release Date: September 16, 2014
“Well, Henry…what do you know?”
“Oh…I don’t know much of anything.”
Eraserhead is a film I have to revisit at least once every ten years, just in order to re-assess my thinking of it. So far, it hasn’t worked.
Some people just aren’t big fans of David Lynch…the director has woven many dreamlike tapestries over the course of his career that have redefined modern surrealism, while challenging how far viewers are willing to follow before giving up on his excessive strangeness and frequent lack of cohesive plot clotheslines.
So I want to make it clear…I AM a big fan of David Lynch. I do understand why those who don’t like him feel the way they do, and I certainly never try to talk them out of it. He is either your cup of tea or not. While some find his works indulgent and excessively odd, I find in his best movies a pure out-of-body experience…like being in someone else’s dream. Dreams don’t always make sense, but something about them taps right into your subconscious and makes you respond, even if you can’t always put your response into words.
Yet, even as a David Lynch fan, I can’t say I’ve found every offering from him to my liking. This brings me back to Eraserhead. This was David Lynch’s first feature film. It had a low budget, a small cast, and yet took four years to make. It is definitely a film with a huge cult following, and remains a popular midnight movie attraction even to this day.
But while some first films by major directors are often fascinating as curiosity pieces, if not actually “good” in their own right, I’ve never been able to connect to Eraserhead. And like I said, I’ve tried. I’ve tried to connect this movie to the rest of Lynch’s catalog, and tried to appreciate it for being a fledgling effort from an indisputably talented filmmaker. But nothing seems to work.
It stars Jack Nance, who would become a longtime veteran of Lynch movies until his passing, as Henry. Henry lives in a dark, industrial world that lives mainly through the incredible sound effects that permeate the soundtrack throughout the film.
In this world, he has a girlfriend (Stewart), and we soon learn the two have some sort of hideously deformed baby. And the story, such as it is, is their attempt to care for it until the girlfriend runs off, leaving Henry to his strange visions and mutant child.
The pervasive theme seems to be fear of sex and fear of reproduction; Henry obviously engaged in the act once to produce the child, and is seen doing it again with an attractive neighbor. But the true heroine of the piece might be the fantasy “girl in the radiator” (Near), herself strangely deformed, but who seems to inspire Henry with her bizarre song and dance in which she smashes little versions of Henry’s baby.
There are some sick images here…not just the baby and what becomes of it (no spoilers here), but a strange, disjointed segment where Henry has to carve what are described as “man-made” chickens, that even though cooked, begin to squirm and bleed some awful gook when carved.
As a David Lynch fan, I don’t require a specific roadmap from point A to point B or a plot that is easily diagrammed. I understand some of his works lack a clear thread holding it all together. Like I said, some of his pictures are like watching someone’s dream unfold. But this movie? It’s either far too much or far too little. Even at 90 minutes, it tests my patience with its unbelievably slow pace and lack of anything really developing.
This marks my fourth time watching the movie, and as mentioned, my opinion of it has yet to change. There still may very well be a fifth in my future. Why? Well, my expectations are low, but my hopes are high that someday, something will go off in my head and I’ll be able to say, “Oh, NOW I get it!”
But thankfully, I have many other David Lynch works that I treasure, so I won’t lose too much sleep over it in the meantime.
Criterion has done the best job yet of bringing this cult classic to home video…in fact, this is just about perfection. The black and white photography features a lot of strong contrasts…not a lot of soft greys here, but plenty of deep blacks and clean whites. Images are sharp and crystal clear throughout; this director-approved transfer truly represents his material in the best possible way.
The audio is really outstanding here…as stated, the exaggerated industrial sounds really drive this picture, and the presentation here, though merely the original stereo, is surprisingly strong and powerfully dynamic.
The coolest extras here? Six early short films from David Lynch, some going back to his college days, all with optional introductions by Lynch himself. What a treasure trove!
The remaining supplements are oddly only listed as years; the earliest is the trailer for the film, but the others contain interviews with Lynch and others, location visits, each coming from the title year. This goes all the way up to new interviews from 2014.
Rounding out is another terrific Criterion booklet with photos, essays and more!
Criterion once again scores with Eraserhead, and for those who love the movie, they couldn’t ask for any better than this superior Blu-ray release. Here’s hoping this at least means more partnerships with David Lynch in the future…there’s a lot of his works I would love to see on Criterion discs!